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ARL Usability Webcast: Brava! Bravo!

I attended the ARL usability Webcast held October 28. Well done! Thanks to Infopeople for negotiating a low-cost price for Californians.

The webcast was conducted with a surprisingly light touch, including a few well-chosen cartoons, examples grounded in everyday librarianship (such as library doors with handles that lead users astray), and quotes such as “Know thy user, for they are not you,” and “Forget what you know, and OBSERVE.”

I came away with at least five new ideas, and with a number of old ideas reinforced. Starting with the old ideas, presenters emphasized the need for user-centered design, the value of the iterative design process, and for the concept that usability testing can be done cheaply and quickly, and yet also effectively, with somewhere between 4 to 8 “subjects” for each iteration. A presenter also encouraged us to “Guide test participant to ‘think aloud.'”

Newer ideas, or things that had rattled to the bottom of my brain pan, included the value of paper prototyping and videotaping, deeper discussions of the design work cycle (including very specific guidance for usability testing, such as “identify key tasks, create questions, create debriefing questions, create forms, train your test monitors”), ideas for engaging team members in the usability testing process, and recommendations for several good books, including Jeffrey Rubin’s book, which I bought right after I located it on the program bibliography. “Guerrilla Tactics” for fast, cheap usability testing included “Don’t schedule users–grab ’em!” plus the value of mini-tests. Presenters encouraged us not to write up interim reports but to test, fix, and test again the following week.

I enjoyed the amusing list of objections to testing and usability issues. “This will dumb down the page” is my favorite. (I have the t-shirt for that one. Early in my LII tenure, someone said that to me when I removed a confusing feature from the front of LII.)

Three small dinks for the ARL webcast. The first 12 minutes were devoted to a series of explanations and introductions; that’s over 10% of the 90 minutes allotted to this program, and got things off to a slow start. Also, the links in the Webcast weren’t clickable, and I wasn’t sure how to get to them. I went back to the ARL site and they were right there, but still. Finally, I worried that I was stuck on question 4 in the survey at the end, but it turns out that was the end of the survey–an intriguing usability problem! Maybe one more iteration would have fixed it.

The tech side of things worked great. I would teach online again if I could use something like the software ARL used, versus Blackboard (which is not an tool for facilitating education so much as a place to park correspondence course materials). I enjoyed seeing and hearing the presenters, I could ask questions by text entry (and they answered them), and I could follow the page views easily.

Great info, well-presented, and I could sit here in my office with a cup of tea (IM’ing people I know who were attending the same presentation).

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